Something very interesting happened last week.

For what is believed to be the first time ever, someone was given a prison sentence in Italy for posting fake reviews using a false identity – criminal conduct under Italian criminal law – on TripAdvisor.

The 9-month sentence for fraud was given to a company called PromoSalento, for selling fake review packages to Italian hospitality businesses, along with around 8,000 Euros in costs.

TripAdvisor itself supported the prosecution and shared evidence from its dedicated in-house compliance team, describing its approach to fraud as ‘extremely rigorous’.

We have ourselves been reporting for some time how we as consumers all rely on peer reviews and expert opinion, across almost every element of life, for everything from electronics to legal services or simply a new album to download.

And this is particularly true in hospitality. What we spend on travel and holidays is often a large and important part of our spend, whether for business or leisure. Only last week I wrote about my own past experience as a hotel assessor, and how as consumers we need some kind of guidance or reassurance that what we think we’ve booked is what we’ll get.

And there’s no point reading a review of anything – whether that’s a car, a pair of shoes or a serviced apartment – if we can’t be sure the content is unbiased and genuine, whether we agree with the sentiment or not.

Pascal Lamy, Chairman of the World Committee on Tourism Ethics at the UNWTO, has described fake reviews as playing “a major role in tourism and consumer purchasing decisions .. (so) it’s important everyone plays by the rules”.

The Committee published guidelines last year around ratings and reviews on digital platforms, in collaboration with TripAdvisor amongst others, and the UNWTO stands firm on transparency and ethics across the industry. There are those talking about blockchain technology, and how the transparency building review platforms in this way will bring immutability and clarity; but while this technology is starting to make its presence felt across every industry, we are where we are, with TripAdvisor still the largest hospitality review site there is today.

We are delighted as an Association that we represent only Members who have passed our rigorous Quality Accreditation programme, and believe we’re playing a big part therefore in reassuring consumers that booking with an ASAP member confirms you can stay with confidence, knowing you’ll receive a high level of customer service and quality, and that stringent safety standards have been met.

And that’s not all. Over the coming weeks we have a number of announcements to make that we believe will continue this work, with launches of our own directory and review systems to be rolled out across the sector, making Membership ever more attractive and boosting the sector’s visibility with consumers.

Watch this space! There’s even more to come.

James Foice, CEO, ASAP

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